Though a small nation, Scotland has a giant-sized love of books and storytelling. It’s also apparently a bloodthirsty country, as a large number of its many book festivals are dedicated to crime fiction, with new events springing up each year. But Bloody Scotland in Stirling – created by authors Lin Anderson and Alex Gray and running since September 2012 – is the original, with dozens of authors appearing in more than 40 events across three days this year.
Proving that Tartan Noir is the broadest of broad churches, the festival’s programme launch in May featured Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the Botswana-set No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and the closing In Conversation panel in Stirling this weekend stars Irvine Welsh, whose works definitely contain plenty of wrongdoing. From cosy mysteries to police procedurals to spy stories to domestic noir, Bloody Scotland covers it all – plus there are several less formal events to add to the mix. It kicks off with a gala opening on Friday and the awarding of the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year – shortlisted this year are Lin Anderson, Chris Brookmyre, Charles Cumming and Liam McIlvanney.
Bob McDevitt, director of Bloody Scotland, says of the festival’s varied programme: “It’s hard to think of something we haven’t tried – we have our first murder mystery musical this year, which I am very much looking forward to. And we try every year to have one or two big-name authors that we haven’t had before, so my search for next year’s begins now.
“We feel very welcome in Stirling and are working with more and more local businesses each year. I think the torchlight procession last year really helped to involve the people of Stirling who turned out in droves to participate and watch.”
This year’s programme has big names including Stuart MacBride, Peter James, Quintin Jardine, Ann Cleeves and Ambrose Parry, plus BBC journalist Frank Gardner and award-winning writer Stella Duffy. There is a non-fiction strand, with forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black in conversation with forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd, plus psychologist Dr Kathy Charles and forensic adviser Kate Bendelow examining writers and their works. And the festival reflects the popularity of crime fiction on screen: writer MC Beaton and actress Ashley Jensen will discuss the TV adaptations of the Agatha Raisin novels, and Helen FitzGerald will be discussing the move from page to screen for her novel The Cry with some of the show’s cast.
Several events celebrate longevity – Alanna Knight marks 50 years in the business, while Val McDermid will chat with Denise Mina about the 20th anniversary of the latter’s first novel, Garnethill, and three writers discuss the Tartan Noir side of Muriel Spark in the centenary of her birth. But the festival stays bang up to date with a panel entitled Time’s Up For Violence Against Women, and another dealing with the barriers that writers face in terms of race, class and sexual orientation.
On the latter topic, there is a new award this year for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic authors. An initiative from publisher Harvill Secker in partnership with Bloody Scotland will see the winner – to be announced in November – receive an advance of £5,000, have their book published and appear at next year’s festival. The judges include Bloody Scotland board member Abir Mukherjee, author of the award-winning Sam Wyndham novels.
Commendably, Bloody Scotland has always been keen to nurture new voices – there is a day-long masterclass for those starting out, and the heart-stopping Pitch Perfect, where writers try and persuade a panel of industry figures to take on their books. For those who are only just published, or are about to be, there is Crime in the Spotlight, which gives writers a few minutes to read from their work on stage as a “support act” to a big-name panel, and Alex Gray introduces four debut authors in her New Crimes slot.
As well as Brit Noir and Local Crimes For Local People, Bloody Scotland also shines a light on international writers, with panels and authors representing Sweden, Iceland, Brazil, New Zealand and mainland Europe to name just a few. Last year, Lin Anderson and Doug Johnstone headed to the Kolkata Literature Festival and Indian crime writer Monabi Mitra visited Stirling for a panel dubbed Bloody India; this year it’s called The Kiwis Are Coming as Stirling links up with WORD Christchurch, sending 2017 McIlvanney winner Denise Mina across the world and getting Fiona Sussman and Paul Cleave (the 2017 and 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award winners respectively) in return.
McDevitt says of this initiative: “I got talking to Rachael King who runs the WORD festival in Christchurch last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival and we hatched a plan for swapping the winners of our respective prizes. It’s definitely something we’ll be looking to develop in future years.”
The festival has also established and expanded a series of other events, many of which provide a chance for writers and fans to mingle. Or in my case a few years ago, get smacked in the head by a football blasted by the boot of a writer... Despite that, I still enjoy watching the Scotland v England football match, and Friday’s torchlight procession promises to be stunning. There is also a quiz, a murder mystery musical, a live episode of the Two Crime Writers And A Microphone podcast, the legendary Crime At The Coo night, a play entitled Murder At The Knickerage, and a gig by the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers.
If you’re a fan of crime fiction of any kind, then Stirling is the place to be this weekend.
Bloody Scotland runs from Friday to Sunday 23 September in Stirling. For tickets and information, visit www.bloodyscotland.com, @bloodyscotland
For our review of the Bloody Scotland short story anthology, out next month in paperback, visit: https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/books/book-review-bloody-scotland-1-4552869